Henry Kloss: The Man Who Changed
Audio and Video -- Time and Time Again
Henry Kloss died early this month at the age of 72. If
you're an audio- or videophile to any extent, you probably owe him a huge debt. I know I
do. When I first became interested in hi-fi, I was lucky enough to purchase a pair of
Kloss's Larger Advent Loudspeakers. No, that's not a typo -- that's the kind of company
Advent was. At the time it made two models of loudspeaker: The Larger Advent Loudspeaker
and The Smaller Advent Loudspeaker.
Combined with my beloved AR turntable (post Kloss), those
remarkable speakers hooked me on the sound of reproduced music and gave me thousands of
hours of musical pleasure.
Later in life, after having sold all my hi-fi gear to go
and live in Peru, I purchased another AR turntable, an Advent receiver, and a pair of
AR-3A loudspeakers upon my return to the States. Now that was a system to reckon
More recently, I reviewed Kloss's valedictory effort, the Tivoli Henry Kloss Model One Table Radio.
One wasn't enough. Now I own two.
I couldn't even begin to guess how much musical pleasure
I've derived from Kloss's well-designed, reasonably priced products over the years. But
I'm not alone -- the man revolutionized the audio industry.
Let's go back to the early 1950s and survey the audio
scene. Hi-fi was a burgeoning hobby and the LP record had newly arrived on the scene --
making it possible for enthusiasts to reproduce sounds across the sonic spectrum. Dynamic
loudspeakers were huge boxes -- one capable of reproducing 40Hz needed to be about 14'
tall. Movie theaters had 'em, but homes?
Edgar M. Villchur, a teacher at NYU, hit upon a novel
approach. By sealing a speaker's enclosure, he could use the springiness of the trapped
air, rather than the mechanical spring of a driver's suspension. "All I needed to
do," he told Steve Birchall years later, "was to decimate the springy stiffness
of the speaker suspensions, and reduce the size of the enclosure until the air spring was
strong enough to replace the springs we threw away. It also turned out that within the
compressions and rarefactions this air spring would undergo, the response was almost
perfectly linear." Thus was born the compact, full-range, air-suspension speaker.
Except for one small detail. Nobody wanted it. After having
been rejected by the two established speaker manufacturers he'd approached, Villchur was
discouraged. Then he received an expression of interest in the design from a former
student, Kloss, who was building Baruch-Lang speakers for mail order in his Cambridge
workshop. In late spring 1954, Villchur demonstrated his prototype to Kloss, playing,
among other LPs, an E. Power Biggs record with massive pedal tones. Kloss immediately
grasped the possibilities and offered his Cambridge loft as a manufacturing facility.
Acoustic Research (AR) was born with $4000 Kloss raised from his friends and $2000 from
Kloss immediately threw himself into the partnership.
Villchur credited him with 75% of the production design of the AR-1. Villchur and a
physicist friend, Tony Hoffman, contributed the rest. They managed to assemble two AR-1s
in time to demonstrate them at the New York Audio Show in September 1954. Astonishingly,
the critics didn't "get" it. Although they were impressed by the speaker's clean
32Hz bass response, they didn't understand why anyone would want "miniature"
loudspeakers. Julian Hirsch was particularly puzzled, noting "The AR-1 had the lowest
electro-acoustic efficiency of any loudspeaker on the market," but at least he
recognized that "at 25Hz and below, it was more efficient than the Klipschorn, which
had the highest efficiency of those tested." He grudgingly allowed that the AR-1
"established a new industry standard for low distortion bass."
The public, however, had no problem grasping that the AR-1
delivered big speaker sound in a small package. And, while the speaker did consume a lot
more power than the efficient designs it outsold, this was the golden age of great 40-50W
tube amplifiers, which were easily capable of driving it. Villchur and Kloss had succeeded
in taming hi-fi for the masses. With the AR-2, they lowered the price of the speakers to
$89/each. The model AR-3A introduced the dome tweeter -- which is now nigh unto
Kloss left AR to found KLH in 1957. In the early 1960s,
Kloss built the first high-selectivity FM radio -- the KLH Model 8, now considered a
design classic. He also designed the first successful audio product to employ transistors,
the KLH Model 11 portable phonograph.
In 1967, he founded his own company, Advent, where he
offered well-designed loudspeakers employing premium-quality components. His speakers were
the reference standard of their era. In fact, the first issues of The Abso!ute Sound touted
a pair of stacked Advents (an upside-down speaker on top of one standing right-side up) as
Kloss always claimed that the audio side of Advent was
merely a means to produce the funds to develop his true passion, projection TV. Advent
produced a two-piece projection system that ended up primarily in bars, where it displayed
sporting events - ironically, this was before the VCR and the concept of watching movies
on video existed. Kloss refused to take credit for "inventing" projection
television, insisting that it was less an invention than a collection of practical
electrical engineering knowledge. Despite this avowal, he is considered the creator of the
Kloss also developed the Advent Model 200, the first
cassette equipped with Dolby B noise reduction -- which, of course, was the missing
element that made music recorded on cassette listenable. One
of the two times I met him, he described his cross-country flight to persuade Ray Dolby to
license him the technology. "I knew that if I
didn't get some sleep on the flight over that I could never be sharp at that
meeting," he told me. "So I went back to an empty row of seats in the middle and
slept on the floor under them. The stewardesses thought I was insane, but I got eight
hours of sleep!"
founded Cambridge SoundWorks, a company that pioneered direct-to-the-consumer marketing
before the creation of the Internet. The company advocated small satellite speakers and
modestly sized centrally located woofer units, as well as surround-sound and computer
speaker systems. Kloss sold the firm in 1997.
He wasn't done. While at Cambridge SoundWorks, he had
developed a high-quality radio -- the Model 88 Table Radio -- which was reminiscent of his
classic Model 8. In 2000, he went back to table radios one more time, creating the Tivoli
Henry Kloss Model One Table Radio, a design that exploited advanced engineering techniques
that allow cell-phones to deliver crisp, clear sound from marginal signals. To a
generation raised on disposable portables, it's a revelation -- a $99 radio that looks
good, sounds good, and is built to last for another 20 years.
It's a fitting legacy for the man who never set his sights
on anything less.